Lara Jean Covey is a sweet, but shy girl, whose never been able to tell anyone that she likes them. Instead, she writes them love letters, and hides the notes in a box, praying to God that no one will ever find them. Especially if the boy in question is involved with someone close to her, like her sister Margot. Unfortunately for Lara, someone steals her love letters, and sends them to her crushes, including the aforementioned boyfriend. So to convince everyone she’s not trying to steal her sister’s man, she convinces another one of the boys she wrote a letter to, Peter, to pretend to be in a relationship with her. Of course, things don’t go according to plan, as she and Peter wind up developing actual feelings for each other, and Josh, Margot’s boyfriend, ends up becoming a wee bit jealous.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a teen rom-com in the vein of 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and basically anything written by John Hughes. If you’re a fan of those types of movies, you’ll love it. If not, there’s nothing in this that’ll likely win you over. There’s nothing particularly deconstructive or subversive about it. A lot of the tropes people have criticized the genre for–such as the plot only being able to progress because of misunderstandings and characters refusing to speak in full sentences–are present here. So, again, if you don’t like the genre, this film isn’t for you. For my part, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.
For all its clichés, the flick manages to be both charming and enjoyable, and a huge part of this is due to the performances. This is a perfectly cast movie. Lana Condor shines as Lara Jean, and Noah Centineo, whom plays Peter, is terrific. Their chemistry is effortless, and I could easily see this making them both big stars. I especially hope this happens for Lana Condor, since roles for Asian women like her are sadly still very scarce. And, you know what? I do think this movie could change things for her. This is 2018. Social media has amplified the calls for inclusivity in entertainment, and there’s a lot more outlets, like Youtube, Vineo and Netflix, for people to create diverse content. Plus, it’s hard not to fall in love with her when you watch the movie. Something else I liked about this film is its look. The cinematography is very reminiscent of Wes Anderson, with there being lots of perfectly symmetrical shots, and whip pans, which didn’t bother me here, because the movie is quirky, and the look matches it. The characters are also quite likable. This is something I was honestly kind of shocked by, because, on paper, everyone in this movie is an archetype. You’ve got the sassy little sister, the gay best friend, the dumb, but well-meaning dad, etc. And yet, when you watch the movie, they don’t feel like tokens. A large part of this has to do with the fact that the movie is surprisingly understated. Yes, you’ve got heightened situations, but it never gets to the point of impossibility. Unlike in other teen movies, like Mean Girls, where bullies, and everyone else, are written to be so over the top that it becomes kind of silly, here, everything is downplayed, which I found refreshing. This actually brings me to the thing I liked the most about this movie, the fact that it has an Asian American lead character, and that’s not a big deal. Lara Jean’s race is only touched upon twice, in passing, in a scene where her dad tries to make Korean food, and another where she and Peter watch 16 Candles, and she comments on how racist the film is. Other than those tiny moments, she could literally be any ethnicity under the sun. Which, in a weird way, is revolutionary. See, for a long time, if a Hollywood movie had a disabled person, or a person of color as the lead, there had to be some sort of justification for it. It had to be a movie about disability, or abut race. They couldn’t just be characters that happened to be Asian, or disabled. This thinking still holds up in some circles, as my writing professor’s at NYU regularly criticized me for making my characters Asian. “Unless it’s a story where that matters, don’t mention a characters race,” they’d say. Well, in both the book that To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is based on, and the film, Lara Jean is half Korean, and that impacts the plot in no way whosoever. And that’s kind of what makes this story great. It normalizes being Asian. It doesn’t paint our lives as tragic dramas wherein we’re constantly running away from our heritage, embodied by our parents, who came from far away lands where something horrible happened, or any of the other stereotypes that things like The Joy Luck Club have perpetuated. Lara Jean is just a teenage girl who likes boys, and has friends. That’s it. And that, coupled with the good performances, and more realistic characters, makes this movie kind of special.
So if you like teen rom-coms, or are looking for a good date movie, snuggle up with someone you love, and give it a watch. It’s definitely worth your time.